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Prisons Fight Tobacco Use with Vaping

Chris Stansell | July 31 2018

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This year has seen the increase in countries willing to jail vapers, as featured in our travel blog (Here ). However, there are some that are doing quite the opposite and encouraging prisoners to try vaping.

Earlier this year, the Isle of Man Prison concluded a six month trial period of allowing access to vaping devices to inmates. The experiment was conducted after restlessness and illicit practices followed an outright smoking ban. Prisoners were reportedly attempting to smoke everything from banana peels and tea bags to cut up nicotine patches, as well as causing numerous power outages while trying to light materials using kettles and other means not made for that purpose. Not having the desire to try and enforce even stricter rules on inmates, the prison decided to try a different approach, allow prisoners to buy and use vaping devices in cells and recreational areas. No one expected what was to come next.


What followed was miraculous to say the least. First, the number of behaviour warnings dropped over half of what they were before. On top of that, power outages saw a decrease in 50% and most amazingly 25% of newly received offenders asked for help to quit smoking for good. By the end of the process, not only was behavior better, the desire to smoke decreasing, and the amount of outages down but it was discovered they would save over $11,000 in nicotine replacement therapy.  

"The e-cigarette pilot scheme at Jurby prison is a major success story for the Isle of Man. A problem has been solved. We have better behavior, a calmer, cleaner and safer environment," Jurby prisons’ governor, Bob McColm said, adding that he was surprised at how many inmates were looking for help to quit smoking but who hadn't been helped by traditional means.

In Wales, after a 2017 ban on smoking resulted in riots, prisons started offering vaping alternatives. Currently, it is believed that over 33,000 inmates are vaping, bringing in nearly $86,000 a week in vape related sales. As an added bonus, other inmates and staff are no longer subjected to second hand smoke from cigarette use. A Prison Service spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: "All closed prisons in England and Wales are now smoke free reducing the risk of second-hand smoke to prisoners and staff. Prisoners have been given support in quitting smoking if they need it including vapes, e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy."

The vaping industry in the United States prison systems have not yet picked up as much as their UK counterparts. To date there are about a dozen states, including Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas that are allowing vaping devices in their prisons. Officials have stated that use has helped curb agitation from nicotine withdrawal in prisoners.

"Our main goal, though, was to cut down on people sneaking in cigarettes and loose tobacco, and we've seen a tremendous reduction there," said Maj. Mitch Stanley, the center director of the Darlington County Detention Center in South Carolina.

However, not all facilities have taken to the improvement in population moral and drop in contraband, citing the increased workload on guards and needing to determine just what kind of smoke or vapor may be produced.

Richard Licten, a jail procedures consultant, has voiced concerns over the safety in the possession of the devices themselves saying “Why would you hand someone a tool that can be made into a weapon?"

To prevent these type of instances, companies like CrossBar have developed e-cigarettes made specifically for prison systems. These devices are made of a transparent single tube casing made of soft plastic, with sealed ends and a second layer of protection in the form of their “tamper obvious” tape. As well as these precautions, serial numbers and bar codes are implemented to track prisoner usage and insure that trading or theft is not an issue. In many cases, prisoners are required to return their device for inspection before making another purchase. Looking at this breakdown of all the features of these devices, show that not only would these be safe alternatives to contraband cigarettes but shows that the creators knew what they were thinking while developing them. Of course, that would make sense as the company was created by former jailer, Jamie Mosley.

Currently there average cost of sustaining a prisoner in the U.S. is around $30,000/year. With more facilities using the markup on vaping materials, that could put a pretty significant dent in the issue of taxpayers fitting the bill for them. While of course it wouldn’t erase the cost, it could have a large effect on the amount.

Looking at all these factors, it is surprising why any facility would prefer illicit means and more aggressive inmate as opposed to legal, fund raising devices that will help decrease the aggravation by many prisoners. Hopefully, the U.S. will continue to move forward and will take heed based on the success of the U.K.’s vaping program, not only for the monetary income to help upkeep but to help truly rehabilitate some inmates in at least one way while they’re inside.

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